Of Special Interest ...examining a significantly timely topic
Since the pandemic, investors have been leery of adding REITs to their asset mix due to fears that flexible scheduling and work-from-home will permanently diminish the demand for office space. While that view may prove correct, the magnitude of such a change is much less significant than some might suspect.
Real Estate was the top performing sector in the final quarter of 2023, climbing an impressive 18.8% against the market’s 11.7% gain. Signs of enthusiasm for the REIT industry have been rare in recent times. While the S&P 500 gained 96% over the last five years, REITs returned a paltry 31% over that time. We wondered if last quarter’s success signaled that it was time to take a fresh look at the group. This report examines the investment merits of REITs as an asset class, using the mental model of evaluating “what you pay vs. what you get.”
The Magnificent Seven’s remarkable performance defines the stock market in 2023. This basket of the seven largest companies in the S&P 500 index gained an average of 111% vs. an average gain of 9% for the other 493 companies. The combined impact of huge index weights and outsized performance made 2023 one of the most top-heavy markets in history. Whenever assets outperform to this degree over just a few quarters, the valuation alarm bells start clanging. Could the fundamentals possibly justify such a massive advance, or is AI mania responsible for the outperformance?
Performance chasing is one of the most common behavioral errors made by mutual fund investors and represents one of the most heavily traveled roads to poor investment results. Now, when we use the phrase performance chasing it is universally understood that we are talking about chasing good performance. That is why we are so intrigued with TLT, this year’s fund flow leader among bond ETFs. The iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF has raked in over $20 billion in new assets this year, but not by posting strong results. Rather, inflows have surged despite returns that are frankly terrible. Such an incongruity deserves a closer look, and this study lays out some of the key storylines behind this surprising development.
The momentum style factor has a long history of producing excess returns and is found in the security selection toolbox of many asset managers. This concept is regarded with such esteem that a number of ETFs have been launched to capture this value-added factor, including eight funds with AUM exceeding $300 million. The Magnificent Seven, the seven largest stocks in the S&P 500 index, have booked remarkable returns in 2023 with the equal weighted performance of this basket of tech titans gaining 88% YTD. The also-rans that make up the other 493 members of the S&P 500 have collectively returned a pathetic 1.6%. The Magnificent Seven seem to embody the momentum factor perfectly, yet momentum ETFs have been hugely disappointing this year. Not only have they failed to capture the Magnificent Seven move, but these ETFs have also badly lagged the broader market. This leads to the question, “In a seemingly perfect environment for momentum, what happened to the missing mo?”
If uncertainty is the bane of investors everywhere, then the fear of large losses in a bear market is the boogeyman hiding in the closet. The threat of an agonizing downturn often leads investors to carry lower equity weights in their balanced portfolios than might be advisable, and even drives them to hold excess cash to avoid the risk of sizable declines.
ETF families have responded to this anxiety with a fund design that takes some downside risk off the table and may enable investors to tiptoe into equities even when they suspect a selloff might be around the corner. Known as “buffer”, “defined outcome”, or “target outcome” funds, these ETFs utilize an options collar overlay to trim the upside and downside tails of the underlying asset’s return distribution, thereby giving nervous investors a more comfortable way to pick up some equity exposure during riskier times.
Option collar strategies provide a defined outcome on the date of maturity, but the value from inception to maturity varies. In the case of an extreme market move either direction, a collar strategy will not capture the fullness of the fluctuation early in its lifecycle, but should reach its cap/floor value as maturity nears.
Many investors appreciate the benefit of covered-call strategies, but we wonder how many truly understand the opportunity costs of buy-write funds over time—or under differing conditions. On the surface, these approaches are simple, but they have complicated payoff patterns relative to stock and bond funds.
After years of wandering in the wilderness, Japanese stocks are leading the world’s developed markets higher in what has been a robust opening half of the year. The table shows Japan leading the world’s ten largest developed markets (as measured by the MSCI family of international indexes) with a 24% local currency return through June, easily outpacing the pack. Even as the MSCI USA index gained 17% by successfully “fighting the Fed” this year, Japan surged another 7% beyond that outstanding result. We were curious to understand the nature of Japan’s spectacular run in 2023, looking to identify the drivers of this strong and relatively quick jump higher.
The Fed’s June announcement of a pause with further rate hikes to come has extended the uncertainty of whether an inverted curve and persistent policy tightening will ultimately lead to a recession. The business cycle is a critical investment issue because the relative returns of many assets depend on the state of the macro economy. This study examines the Consumer Discretionary (CD) sector’s behavior in recessionary times, with the goal of understanding the typical performance pattern during economic lows in order to help investors position their portfolios for a potential recession.
While sentiment on the potential for a recession by year-end is split, there is little dispute that it’s an important question for cyclical sectors. Consumer Discretionary is most exposed to the business cycle, and we are interested in understanding its prospects as we head toward a potential economic slowdown.
The S&P 500 posted a 7.7% price gain for the six months ended April 30th, although this advance has been a hard-fought battle as gains have resulted from a narrow list of drivers. Style leadership has been concentrated in mega-cap tech names, such that the ten members of the NYSE FANG+® Index have produced 77% of the S&P 500’s YTD gain. Furthermore, gains over recent months have resulted solely from expanding multiples. Narrowness in either thematic leadership or price drivers is concerning because breadth is a useful concept in evaluating the staying power of a market advance. In light of this year’s market action, we are intrigued by the notion of measuring breadth not simply by price moves alone but by examining each of these two important sub-components individually. Does today’s environment, where price gains are driven by valuation increases alone, tell us anything about future market returns?
The S&P 500 posted an encouraging +9.2% YTD, but below the surface that strong return was the result of a limited number of influences. There is narrowness in both thematic and return drivers; the fact that gains have not been broad-based is cause for concern about performance during the remainder of 2023.